Saturday, November 12, 2016

My Privilege is Showing

It was only after I reached my car that I began to realize the mistake I'd made. I'd left the store feeling pretty good about myself. Spontaneously, I'd helped someone out of a tight spot just to help her have a better day. And yet, I'd missed the real opportunity. My whiteness was showing.

Waiting third in line at Walmart, of course I was in the line where there was a payment problem. I needed to get back to pick up my son from his class. I have a talent for picking the wrong lines. I watched. The cashier left to speak to a manager, waving the woman's card. They debated on what to do, both shrugging their shoulders. The older black woman looked defeated. Impulsively, I stepped around the woman between us and asked for the total on her bill. $50. I asked the woman to please let me pay, I could do that. "Merry Christmas early!" I said. "I want you to have a good day going forward and I'm happy to do this."

Still with her head down, fumbling with her wallet, she thanked me sincerely, and said she had not had a good day up to that point. I nodded, smiled, stuck my credit card in my pocket and retreated back to my place in line. It had actually had made me a bit nervous to act, but also felt exhilarating.

Then, back at car, I realized my mistake. I'd played the rescuer with my easy money, made myself feel good, and had missed the golden opportunity. What had happened to that woman that day? Why hadn't I taken just a moment more to truly connect instead of sweeping in with my money, a temporary fix. Although I was determined to never tell anyone what I'd done (thinking the deed was made better by keeping it secret), I write now about it to contemplate how I, with the ease of my money, thought to make a woman happy for a moment, not really understanding what it is like to be her. Perhaps I shamed her, me with my credit card that worked. Perhaps, though she really needed the financial help, she needed someone to "see" her more.

I can't do much about the hatred and bullying that has crawled from the shadows, but I can fight it with my own awareness. Next time, I'll ask, "What is wrong?"


2 comments:

Rick said...

I disagree about not doing enough. As a person who has done this from time to time, I always feel good and I hope it has helped. I suppose in my lifetime I have done this maybe 100 times and counting. The thing is I have had to rely on others to rescue me early in my marriage. I was eternally grateful and when i started to earn and have money I started helping when I could. A few cents here, a few dollars there. Kids to camp band students with band charges.

When a person knows I have done something (I mostly ask to remain anonymous) I always ask but one thing, someday help someone. Those are the same words I received 38 years ago it worked.

Junosmom said...

I appreciate your perspective, Rick.I understand it is often enough to just help. For myself, I will forever wonder why this woman was having such a hard day, stopping not just to solve the problem, but to understand the problem. Thanks for reading.

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